It’s a little sad what most kids today think is an action film. I was raised on the 1980’s era holy trinity of Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis, and to me this modern stuff looks like the sort of thing the military uses to cause brain damage to Iraqi insurgents.
An action film doesn’t need to have wall to wall shoot-outs to be exciting. Pacing and tension does a hell of a lot more for a sense of momentum than having things blow up every five seconds. If anything, non-stop action makes a film seem slower than it is because it’s exhausting to sit through. Not to mention boring, because when a film has all the mental stimulation of watching a little kid bang pots together for an hour and a half your mind tends to wander.
“At World’s End,” like one of its protagonists, seems to originate from a long ago time. It doesn’t rush through essential plot points to get to the next action sequence. It doesn’t have monosyllabic dialogue composed entirely of exclamations like “GO! GO! GO!” or “WATCH OUT!” It doesn’t have an infantile story with all the depth of a bad Saturday morning cartoon. Watching this makes you feel like its 1985, not 2010. It’s anachronistic and, to be honest, that’s pretty refreshing. True, it’s like a donkey on Ambien compared to the Speedfreak racehorses of today, but that’s what gives this film character.
After a psychotic drifter called Severin Geertsen kills an entire group of documentary filmmakers in the jungles of Sumatra, because they came near a flower he calls “Hedvig,” the man is sentenced to death by hanging. However, because he’s also a Danish citizen, the Foreign Ministry asks psychiatrist Adrian Gabrielsen to evaluate his sanity for trial. Things become more than a bit complex when Severin’s passport says he entered the country in 1912 and that he was born in 1880.
When questioned about this during a session, Severin says that the flower’s petals are what give him eternal life. “If a blue snake bites your foot, step on its tail if you don’t want to die.” He adds more than a bit cryptically. Adrian doesn’t believe a word and thinks the man is mentally ill. Unfortunately both the authorities and the local criminals believe Severin, and they want to find that flower at all costs, even if it means torture and murder. Even more unfortunately, they believe that Adrian knows what all the business about blue snakes is about, so he’s in line for a set of jumper cables on the testicles too.
However, in a bit of good luck, Severin likes Adrian and is a bit of a trigger-happy lunatic. So he helps the rather nebbish shrink stay one step ahead of the trouble that’s after both of them in explosive fashion. Joining the two is Adrian’s ditzy but hot secretary Beate, who also believes Severin and thinks the flower may be able to save Adrian’s mother who is dying of cancer.
What I felt most while watching “World’s End” was a warm fuzzy sense of nostalgia for the good old days of action movies. Where nothing too impossible happened and where plot, characters, dialogue and fun were what propelled the film, not CGI, shaky camera work and incoherent editing. There’s a lesson to be learned from this Danish parody, but I doubt the people who’d benefit most from it are listening.